'Critical period' for EU asylum policy

The United Nations refugee agency has called on Sweden to use its upcoming Presidency of the European Union, which begins on July 1st, to highlight the need to ensure that refugees, asylum-seekers and others requiring protection are able to find it throughout the Union.

The next six months will be a particularly crucial period for the future of EU asylum policy, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has published its recommendations to Sweden for its Presidency.

The EU is set to adopt a new multi-annual program in the area of Justice and Home Affairs during the second half of 2009 which will determine the course of EU law and policy on asylum from 2010 through 2014, the agency noted.

“UNHCR calls on Sweden to use its Presidency to reassert the importance of a rights-based approach to border management and migration control,” the agency’s spokesperson, William Spindler, told reporters in Geneva.

“Recent events, including Italy’s push-backs of boat people and elections in which anti-immigrant parties scored big gains in a number of EU countries, give rise to concern about Europe’s commitment to ensuring access to protection,” he added.

Mr. Spindler said UNHCR supports strengthened solidarity among EU member States to assist those facing particular pressures resulting from the arrival of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers.

The agency has suggested a “menu of options” to address the issue, which could include the relocation of refugees from one member country to another. However, this should not be at the expense of solidarity with non-EU countries hosting large refugee populations.

UNHCR appealed for much stronger EU engagement in refugee resettlement, pointing out that the Union currently offers less than 10 per cent of global resettlement places.

Among its other recommendations, UNHCR has stressed the need to improve the quality and consistency of decision-making on asylum claims across the EU.

It pointed out that the current situation, in which applications from people of the same nationality and with similar case histories have totally different outcomes from one country to another, undermines the very premise of a Common European Asylum System.

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